Rebels reach semifinals in Roussel’s second season

Published 1:46 pm Thursday, November 30, 2023

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RESERVE – When Lee Roussel became the football coach of the Riverside Academy Rebels last year, he and his coaching staff set a bunch of goals for themselves and their team. One of those goals was to still be practicing the week of Thanksgiving.

Actually, it’s the goal of every high school football team. It means the season isn’t over, your team is still alive in the playoffs and one win away from a trip to the championship game in the Caesars Superdome.

For Roussel and the Rebels, it’s “mission accomplished.”

Riverside, the No. 5 seed in the bracket, defeated No. 4 seed St. Martin’s 26-14 in last week’s quarterfinals to advance to the Division IV Select semifinals for the first time since 2017.  The Rebels (11-1) and a caravan of fans will travel to Abbeville to take on No. 1 seed Vermilion Catholic Friday night. The winner will advance to the finals in the Superdome.

It has made for quite the excitement in the Riverside community, which gathered early Thanksgiving morning for pre-turkey breakfast for players and their families.

“I’m excited for our kids,” Roussel said. “It’s the first time this group of seniors have been this far in the playoffs. The goal is always to keep playing. It’s hard to win football games. It’s hard to win games once you get to the playoffs. Practicing over Thanksgiving was one of our goals. That’s what River Parishes football is. We knew it could be done because it’s been done before. We didn’t get them there in Year One but we got them there in Year Two.”

The Rebels reached their goal by knocking off St. Martin’s for the second time this season, giving the Saints and former Rebels’ coach Kevin Dizer their only two losses of the season. For the second time, all eyes were on St. Martin’s running back Harlem Berry, who is touted as one of the top prospects in the state. But, once again, it was diminutive running back Dedric Lastie who led the way, rushing for 188 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries.

But Roussel said the Rebels, although young, are anything but one-dimensional. Sophomore quarterback Brock Bourgeois passed for 76 yards and one touchdown. Eighth grader Kenric Johnson had three catches for 42 yards and a score.

But it was the defense which has been shining in the past several games. They recorded seven sacks Friday night and Berry was held to 149 yards and one score.

“When we needed it the most, we made a play,” Roussel said.

The Rebels will face a team much like themselves in Vermilion Catholic, which defeated Ascension Catholic 39-35 in the quarterfinals after rallying from a 22-0 deficit. The Eagles follow the lead of quarterback Jonathan Dartez, who ran for 183 yards and four touchdowns on 30 carries last week. But the Screaming Eagles also are no one-trick-pony. Dartez threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to Joe Langlinais.  Jyrin Bessard sparked his team’s comeback with a 94-yard kickoff return – his first of the season.

“The’ve got other guys who can hurt you,  but their quarterback is their feature guy,” Roussel said.  “The play is never over. We have to eliminate the big explosive plays and be able to execute both phases of our offense.”

Roussel also fully expects this to be just the first time his Rebels are practicing during Thanksgiving week and that the Thursday breakfast will become just another new tradition for the team.

“We want that to be the standard at Riverside,” Roussel said. “It’s something I’d like to keep going. The kids know what to expect now.”